Local organic grower sells farm ‘shares’

Erik Ebsen

Erik Ebsen

Coffee wasn’t the only thing available over the counter at Cottonwood Coffee this summer. Some people were getting organic vegetables there as well, although they weren’t exactly buying them.

“It’s all kind of connected in a way,” said Jacob Limmer, who owns Cottonwood Coffee. He and store manager Sarah Trone also farm a small plot of land near Lake Norden, S.D., 45 minutes northwest of Brookings, near Watertown. Trone manages the farm, Limmer owns it.

Last summer, they backed off their crop production in order to start up the new coffee shop. Once opened, customers could pick up their vegetables at the coffee counter. Thirteen Brookings-area families were getting organic vegetables this way. Limmer has customers outside the Brookings area as well.

But customers don’t actually buy the vegetables. Instead of selling the produce, Limmer sells shares of his organic farm.

“Almost like a stock share,” Limmer said.

This makes the customer more like a share-holder in a corporation. They get a portion of the produce and have a say in what the farm does. The price of a share varies by the customer’s level of involvement. Shares start at $300.

The farm’s level of production varies depending on the season. The area planted varies from year to year as well.

Despite this, Limmer said an acre of the farm can feed 20 families of four per week. All the labor is done by hand until they till the ground at season’s end. Limmer has a small tractor and a five-foot tiller for that. They plant crops in five-foot beds with a small path between.

“It’s a very highly productive method,” said Limmer.

While productive, organic farming doesn’t include the use of chemicals. The way they farm, said Limmers, they don’t need chemicals. The two explained further.

Ideal growing conditions make for a healthy plant, said Trone. In healthy soil, a plant can take care of itself. Limmer used an analogy to help describe their agricultural Children that grow up playing outside and in the dirt are exposed to more bacteria and microbes than ones raised in more sterile environments. These less-doctored children develop more natural antibodies and stronger immune systems because their bodies have, too. Studies have shown children who grow up in more sterile environments are more likely to develop allergies later, said Limmer.

For the USDA to certify a farm as ‘organic,’ it must follow certain guidelines and the ground must be free from all chemicals for three years. Limmer and Trone’s farm isn’t certified.

“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Limmer.

The process is expensive, complicated, and Limmer doesn’t plan on getting it. Trone added that the process is tailored toward bigger businesses.

“We would need to hire an accountant,” she said.

Limmer and Trone’s farm exceeds the government standards for ‘organic;’ they simply chose not to getofficial designation. Limmer said his customers don’t care. They know where their vegetables are coming from.

Some SDSU students don’t. Some students don’t seem to care much about eating organic, either. Nick Curry, a junior English major, was more concerned with the quality of food on campus than he was with anything organic.

“I just acknowledge it as another part of the grocery store. I wish there was a cheaper way to do it.”

Organic food may have something of a reputation for being trendy or not viable, but the methods Limmer and Trone use are very traditional. One of the most useful tools Trone has, she said, was a hoe that dates back to the ’50s. For clearing areas of grass, they use a scythe. What today we call ‘organic,’ farmers have been doing for a long time, said Trone.

“Organic is what they used to do until the ’50s,” she said.

This year’s growing season is past, so coffee drinkers won’t see vegetable baskets being passed over the sandwich counter any longer. But those looking for fresh, locally-grown food next summer don’t have far to look.

“Come down here and talk to us,” said Limmer.

#1.884108:2428877161.jpg:Organic2.jpg:Organic grower Jacob Limmer works at his other job – as the owner of Cottonwood Coffee in Brookings. Limmer uses a unique ‘share’-type system to sell the produce from his organic farm.:Christy Wey#1.884107:2591858245.JPG:Organics01.JPG:Organic foods line the aisle of the Brookings Hy-Vee grocery store. A local grower uses farm ‘shares’ to sell his produce.: